In a 7700 word article, Shankar Vedantam writes in the Washington Post about Caroline Crocker’s treatment at George Mason University.
Some Darwinists I’ve known–who have never experienced what it is like to be a scientific minority in today’s climate–argue that she was not fired from her job. “Her contract was simply not renewed for reasons unrelated to ID” they claim. True: her contract was not renewed, and technically speaking, she was not “fired.” But from information I have heard, the non-renewal of her contract had much to do with her views and the fact that she mentioned ID in a biology classroom.
It seems to me that Crocker’s account in the Washington Post is very accurate. Here are some of the relevant sections:
“I lost my job at George Mason University for teaching the problems with evolution,” said Crocker, a charge that the university denies. “Lots of scientists question evolution, but they would lose their jobs if they spoke out.”
As more students began to speak, many expressed what were clearly long-held doubts about evolution. Nguyen said later that Crocker had merely provided evidence for what he had always suspected.
When Lowe finally spoke, it seemed as if the lecture had lifted a load from her shoulders. “I believe in creationism, I believe in intelligent design,” she declared to the class. Humans have souls, which make them different from other animals, she told me later. To believe in evolution meant that “after you are dead, you are done.” Without the accountability of Judgment Day and Hell, why would people follow the Ten Commandments?
A woman in the back of the class raised her hand. Her voice shook with emotion. “If science is the pursuit of truth, why is evolution not questioned?”
“I’ve heard scientists say people won’t understand, so they should be told only one side,” Crocker replied.
There was a long moment of silence. Finally the student said, “Isn’t that lying to the public?”
Crocker declined to answer the question, but someone else grimly observed, “Won’t be the first time.”
I went up to this last student after the class. She initially agreed to be identified, but moments later, remembering what Crocker had said about the scientific establishment’s intolerance of dissent, she begged me not to publish her name. The fear on her face was palpable. She wanted to be a veterinarian and was convinced that dream would be smashed if powerful scientists learned she had dared to question evolution.
But Crocker was reluctant to say much more. In fact, she seemed reluctant to be speaking to a reporter at all. She asked if I had seen the e-mail she had sent me the previous day; I had not. In it, she described the attacks targeted at her career as a result of her views on evolution. Losing the faculty position at GMU had left Crocker worried about how she could support a son at school in England. Family members were asking why she was sticking her neck out. Crocker and her husband, Richard, who is associate rector at Truro, believe she has become the victim of scientific authoritarianism. It is one thing to believe his wife is wrong, Richard Crocker told me, and quite another to deprive her of her right to speak.
GMU spokesman Daniel Walsch denied that the school had fired Crocker. She was a part-time faculty member, he said, and was let go at the end of her contract period for reasons unrelated to her views on intelligent design. “We wholeheartedly support academic freedom,” he said. But teachers also have a responsibility to stick to subjects they were hired to teach, he added, and intelligent design belonged in a religion class, not biology. Does academic freedom “literally give you the right to talk about anything, whether it has anything to do with the subject matter or not? The answer is no.”
Crocker said she came to her views on evolution not because of her religious faith but while working on a PhD in biology, when she learned about the complexity of the cell and the immune system. When I asked her what she made of the extraordinary genetic relatedness of living things, Crocker said she saw it as consistent with the hand of a creator, who uses the same palette of DNA to build protozoa, pandas and people.
The sense that the scientific establishment is intolerant of dissent has become common wisdom among intelligent design advocates. Many are convinced the fight should be left to tenured professors, such as biochemist Michael Behe of Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, the author of the anti-evolution tome Darwin’s Black Box, and to professionals at the Discovery Institute.
“She is really brave for it, but I felt bad that her contract wasn’t renewed,” said Irene Fanous Kamel, a student who took Crocker’s class at GMU and whose orthodox Coptic Christian family hails from Egypt. Kamel, who recently presented her own sympathetic views on intelligent design at a seminar, said she heard exasperated sighs from professors. In private, however, many students said they agreed with her. Kamel said she “would be very surprised to find another teacher talk about ID in class, unless they have tenure. It’s not welcome.”
An unintended consequence of the scientific establishment’s exasperation with evolution’s critics is that supporters of intelligent design such as Crocker and Kamel are increasingly limiting their conversations to fellow sympathizers. Among themselves, these advocates believe the wheel has turned full circle: If Galileo and Copernicus were the scientific rebels who were once punished by the dogma and authority of the church, these advocates now believe that they are being punished by the dogma and authority of science.
“Just like they say you can’t discriminate against black people, or against gays, maybe they will say you can’t discriminate against Darwin-doubters,” Crocker told me.
(Eden and Evolution, by Shankar Vedantam, Washington Post, Sunday, February 5, 2006; W08)